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Families of Germanwings victims honor unidentified remains

Families of Germanwings victims release white balloons after an homage ceremony in front of a stele, in Le Vernet, French Alps, Friday, July 24, 2015. Families of those killed in the Germanwings crash are in the Alpine village where the plane went down to commemorate the dead and bury unidentified remains. Friday's ceremony in Le Vernet takes place exactly four months after the co-pilot is believed to have intentionally crashed the Airbus 320 into a nearby mountain, killing all 150 people on board. The town sub-prefect, Patricia Willaert, estimates 300 family members are attending. Most of the dead were German and Spanish. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

LE VERNET, France (AP) — The families of those killed in the Germanwings plane crash released white balloons into the air Friday, holding a ceremony in the French Alpine village exactly four months after the plane’s co-pilot crashed the Airbus 320 into a nearby mountain.

The inter-religious service under a tent honored those whose bodies went unidentified. Those remains were buried on Thursday night at the nearby Le Vernet cemetery, but families visited the grave at the close of the service as the balloons floated skyward.

French prosecutors say co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit on the March 24 flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, then set the aircraft on its doomed course. All 150 people aboard the plane died, mostly German and Spanish.

Robert Tansill Oliver and Merivel Calvo, parents of 36-year old victim Robert Oliver Calvo, thanked the gendarmes who scoured the mountain for what they said ended up being 30,000 pieces of remains.

“It’s a very difficult situation for the families to realize that all the remains could not be handed over but just some parts, that there is a grave here as well,” said Christof Wellens, a lawyer for families of 34 Germanwings’ victims.

The town sub-prefect, Patricia Willaert, estimated that 300 family members attended the service at the memorial stone laid near the mountain where their loved ones died.

Among those absent was Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, who decided not to attend “because of the tense atmosphere that has arisen in recent days” as a result of an open letter from some victims’ relatives, company spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf said.

“He does not want to burden a dignified ceremony with this discussion,” Tolksdorf added.

The company was represented at the ceremony by Germanwings chief Thomas Winkelmann and Lufthansa chief financial offer Simone Menne.

The parents of 16 German high school students killed in the crash released a scathing letter accusing the Lufthansa’s chief of ignoring their needs and feelings and insulting them with his company’s compensation offer.

Lufthansa has offered around 100,000 euros ($108,000) per family, depending upon its size.

Le Vernet’s mayor, Francois Balique, says the crash site on the mountain should be open within two months as a memorial.

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Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that remains were buried Thursday night, not Friday.

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